Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BLAKE'S VORTEX

New York Public Library
Milton
Frontispiece
 Milton, Plate 15 [17], (E 109) 
"But to himself he seemd a wanderer lost in dreary night.

Onwards his Shadow kept its course among the Spectres; call'd
Satan, but swift as lightning passing them, startled the shades
Of Hell beheld him in a trail of light as of a comet
That travels into Chaos: so Milton went guarded within.          

The nature of infinity is this: That every thing has its
Own Vortex; and when once a traveller thro Eternity.
Has passd that Vortex, he percieves it roll backward behind
His path, into a globe itself infolding; like a sun:
Or like a moon, or like a universe of starry majesty,            
While he keeps onwards in his wondrous journey on the earth
Or like a human form, a friend with whom he livd benevolent.
As the eye of man views both the east & west encompassing
Its vortex; and the north & south, with all their starry host;
Also the rising sun & setting moon he views surrounding    
His corn-fields and his valleys of five hundred acres square.
Thus is the earth one infinite plane, and not as apparent
To the weak traveller confin'd beneath the moony shade.
Thus is the heaven a vortex passd already, and the earth
A vortex not yet pass'd by the traveller thro' Eternity."         
 Kay Parke Easson and Roger Easson view Blake's Milton as a paradigm for engaging in a spiritual journey. On Plate 15 Blake uses the terms infinity and eternity to introduce the idea of spiritual travel. Blake then presents the image of the vortex which he will be using to modify his readers perspectives as they consider their journeys through experience. The Eassons assist us in recognizing the visual forms in which Blake presents the vortex. Quoting from Page 151 of Milton A Poem by William Blake:    

"Blake's image of spiritual Travel is the vortex. Since Blake insists that 'every thing has its / Own Vortex,' his poetry and designs abound with a variety of figures which invoke the vortex. The essential image beneath these figures is the tunnel, [Plate 8] and given the position from which the tunnel is seen, it may seem to assume all these parallel figures. When the observer is standing within the vortex looking directly into its whirling center, it assumes a circular appearance as if it were a broad disc...[Plate 16]...When the vortex is delivering the traveler into the chaos, then it is dark, and we see only a whirling cloud...[Frontispiece]...standing slightly to the side...the vortex as the new or old moon is seen...[Jerusalem Plate 8]...If the vortex is dark, and light is seen only in points, then it assumes the appearance of a constellation in a starry universe...[Plate 4]...If the observer is outside the vortex and observing its passage, it may look like a comet, [Plate 29] its fiery tail indicating the path of the traveler. If the vortex contains a man, it may take the appearance of a five pointed star [Plate 33], one point marking each of the man' appendages...wedges of streaming light [Plate 1] (mark) the cone of the vortex."

The links to plates from Milton are all from Copy C in the New York Public Library. Plate 8 from Jerusalem is from Copy E in the Yale Center for British Art courtesy of wikimedia.

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